ESL Assistant Teaching Tips

I’ve decided to write a few posts in a new category: ESL Assistant Teaching Tips.

Why

This is partly in hopes of sharing what I’ve learned in my last few semesters of assistant teaching.

It’s also partly in hopes of encouraging more programs to hire assistants for ESL writing and reading classes. Not all of my community colleges do this, but I wish they would. I think it would also be helpful in settings beyond EAP, though admittedly I’ve been pretty firmly embedded in adult EAP the past while.

The Basics

The way assistant teaching works at at least one community college I work for is as follows: academic reading and writing courses with a minimum number of students have an assigned lead teacher and an assigned assistant teacher. Classes meet for about two hours, twice a week.

Second hour of class only, the assistant teacher comes in.

The intention is for the first hour to be more about instruction, review, etc., and second hour to be reading and writing practice in class with two instructors available to lead small groups, circulate, check work, conference, etc.

Assistants are not hired to do preparation at home, including lesson planning or grading. They do not necessarily reduce the lead teacher’s workload; rather, they allow more to be accomplished during class, particularly in terms of interactions with students.

 

I will be periodically posting tips and ideas about how assistant teachers can support the classroom. I hope it’s helpful!

 

Advertisements

Semester Report: Breaking My Silos

This semester I’ve been assistant teaching both an intermediate and an advanced academic writing class, back to back.

I also had the opportunity to sub twice for the assistant teacher of both an intermediate and an advanced academic reading class, also back to back.

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy for me or my family to have me at work three nights a week these past couple of weeks. It was a bit of a circus. But I’d been building a neat little silo around myself, and the bigger picture I got from subbing was fascinating.

11866132344_fbbba36d2b_z

First, the four teachers each have really different styles. Their personalities are completely different, which I think pretty directly informs their different ways of spending class time and going over assignments. Sometimes when I’m teaching, or even just assisting, I get this feeling like I’d be better at it if I were someone else. But all of these teachers are definitely themselves, and they all definitely make it work. It gives me more confidence to be me.

Also, my role in intermediate vs. advanced writing classes is a bit different, just with the level of grammar and writing advice needed. But the role in writing vs. reading classes is totally different. The reading classes gave me more opportunity to work with small groups to discuss vocabulary, the readings, etc. It makes me wonder if there are more opportunities for ad-hoc circulating the room in reading classes, and leading small groups in writing classes.

And finally, many of my writing students were also enrolled in the reading classes I subbed for. I got to work with many of the same people but in a different capacity and with different subject matter. It was super fun to see a couple of students who don’t seem particularly into writing in class articulately and vehemently explaining their points of view regarding the novel they’re reading.

Assisting in the same advanced academic writing class several semesters in a row gave me strong familiarity with that course, but at the cost of narrowing my horizons a bit. Branching out this semester has helped me see the silo I’d been in and break free.

Photo CreditNapafloma-Photographe on Flickr

You’re reading Semester Report: Breaking My Silos, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

A Fresh, New Semester

16024807396_e63ed63c62_b

Fall semester 2017 has begun!

There’s a bit of a change for me this time around: I am assistant teaching in two academic writing classes, back-to-back. First I spend about an hour in Intermediate, and then I walk two doors down and spend an hour in Advanced.

It’s pretty great. Both of my lead teachers are off to a solid start, and both of the classes are full of students who are highly motivated to learn the material so they can fulfill their dreams.

First day tidbits from both classes:

  • one classroom shares space with a few (computer) servers. I’m amazed at how little I can hear over their low hum.
  • both classes faced the usual Day 1 logistics of confusing computer log-ins, a wide range of student computer skills, confused people walking into class either by mistake or 45 minutes late, and the need to set a good tone while going over the syllabus and procuring diagnostic writing samples. It’s good to witness that this is ubiquitous and watch both teachers weather the challenges with grace, and help as much as I can.
  • I went to great pains to memorize my recently-updated work password so I could have access to Canvas during the first class. But then I couldn’t remember my username. Oops.
  • In both classes, there were a couple of students who particularly struggled with the computer, even down to basic keyboarding. I spoke privately to each of these individuals and recommended that they do free typing practice online every day, starting the very next day. I hope they’ll do it, or else their timed midterm is going to in effect grade their typing skills instead of their English writing skills.

 

We’ll see what the semester holds!

 

Photo Credit: USDAgov on Flickr

You’re reading And We’re Back, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Taking Notes

 

6016780468_67a298ed8eUnrelated to teaching, I began bullet journaling this year. It’s kind of a thing, but having done it for several months, I see why it’s popular.

The idea with a bullet journal is that it’s for everything, so I took it to class with me. And rather than just say to myself, “that activity my lead teacher just did was so awesome, I’ll definitely remember it whenever I begin lead teaching again,” I went ahead and jotted them down. I collected way more ideas than I’ve written up for this blog.

While I was jotting, I also took notes on student reactions to all sorts of things – activities, assignments, assignment review, conferences, etc.

And while I was thinking about those, ideas popped into my head speculating as to why their reactions were so different than what I’d expected, or other interesting activities, or different angles for lessons, and even blog posts to publish in this space.

Taking notes helped guide and expand my thinking about our class in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went from wanting to feel a bit more organized as a stay-at-home mom, to poaching great ideas from my lead teacher, to really pretty deeply considering the intersection of the students and the syllabus.

Also unexpected: I’ve reread my notes several times already. Since they’re in my bullet journal and I always have my bullet journal on me, rereading happens pretty organically.

I’ve already characterized assistant teaching as amazing professional development, and I found this semester that taking notes took my learning and reflection to another level.

 

Photo Credit: matryosha on Flickr

You’re reading Taking Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Why Assistant Teaching Is Completely Awesome

Last year, I was feeling overwhelmed with balancing my at-home duties and my teaching duties. I’m certainly not the first person in the world to feel that tug of priorities! Everybody makes the decision that’s right for them, and for me, the right decision was to decline taking on a class that semester. I was sad but relieved.

I was then offered the opportunity to assistant teach, and it was so wonderful that I signed up to do it again this semester.

Before I gush too wildly about how much I love assistant teaching, I do want to admit that I miss lead teaching. This week the teacher spent some time going over essay expectations (again), handing out rubrics, etc., and I seriously felt nostalgic about all of it. And since I’m so separate from the grading, I don’t have a complete picture of which students are struggling on their assignments and how they’re struggling. I mean, I can see their grades, but that’s very different from doing the grading. So there’s some disconnection there.

With that out of the way, here is more about what I am getting out of my assistant teaching gig:

Light As A Feather

I get to breeze in without preparing anything, work with the teacher and students on an as-needed basis, and then breeze out again without that big stack of grading. It’s very fun and relaxed!

Professional Development

I get to be in an hour of every session of someone else’s class. Sometimes I play second-banana, and sometimes I observe. Either way, it’s fascinating and I’m paid to be there! I have taken notes on so many great activities and explanations these past two semesters. It’s way better than a conference because it’s embedded in an actual class with real students across a whole semester.

Observing Students

My time is either spent conferencing with students or watching the class. Since I’m not running the show, I have attention to spare for keeping an eye on the quiet ones, watching people’s faces, seeing exactly which word tripped people up (and jumping in if needed, which is rare), and just being a fly on the wall and getting a perspective other than that of Leader Of The Class.

Working Closely With Another Teacher

Being an adjunct instructor is a lonely business! Especially working at secondary campuses and working at night – I just don’t usually have a lot of contact with my wonderful departments and colleagues. Being an assistant teacher, I’m always with my lead teacher, and any work I do supplements her agenda. This is really different from what I’m used to, and it’s valuable and refreshing!

Balance In My Life

All that time I’m not spending trying to prep lessons, write tests, keep track of late homework, and grade essays? I’m using it to blog, go to bed early, organize the house, start up a garden, donate the baby stuff my kids have grown out of, etc. I even get to read sometimes! I don’t feel so stressed and depleted. I have more to give. It’s good. It’s really good.

Prep

When I’m ready, I would be overjoyed to lead teach this class. And while assistant teaching it any number of times will certainly not make it “easy,” I am way more prepared to dive in than I would have been just reviewing the previous teacher’s syllabus. I have tons of specific activity ideas, familiarity with the textbook (though they’ll likely switch textbooks by the time I get there), and observation hours ready to inform my decisions, lessons, assignments, and grading. I’m looking forward to that semester, whenever it turns out to be!

You’re reading Why Assistant Teaching Is Completely Awesome, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Assistant (to the) Teacher

In a spate of blog-updating energy, I gave a quick update and then talked about a Conversation Partners class I got to teach earlier this year.

Next on my list is my new role as an Assistant Teacher.

How I Got There

I thought I wasn’t going to be able to teach this semester. My family moved such that commuting to the place(s) where I used to teach became nightmarish. I’m just not cut out for a drive of less than 15 miles taking 50+ minutes. I guess one of the benefits of being an adjunct with no possibility of benefits is that I’m at least not tethered with golden chains to a specific brutal commute. I applied to programs closer to our new home and discovered another group of lovely people running a great program, and I was very pleased to be welcomed onto their roster of teachers. The problem was that their courses all meet twice a week.

I actually prefer the twice-a-week model to the once-a-week model in terms of learning retention, assignment pacing, class camaraderie, etc. The problem was that in order to prep my once-a-week class I was already tiptoeing around the home office before sunrise to get my planning in. Planning twice as many sessions was going to push me into the zone of “I’m Probably Overextended But I’m Doing My Best Given The Circumstances” for both my teaching and my momming (I am in charge of the kids during the day). This is an uncomfortable zone to be in, and in my own experience comes with a frenetic pace and lots of crankiness. The cost-benefit analysis was pretty clear: it didn’t make sense to teach this semester. When the kids are older, when they (and I) sleep better, when they can be expected to play on their own for a reasonable amount of time, then would be the time I could take on a twice-a-week class and give it my actual best.

Then I got an email from the department asking if I’d like to assistant teach this semester. Half the in-class time commitment and none of the prep. That sounds like about what I can handle right now – yes please!

The Experience

So I go in for about an hour twice a week. The location is really quite convenient to my  home – hooray! The teacher is kind and welcoming, and I enjoy brainstorming with her and working with the students.

This is actually my first time assistant teaching  and it’s a hugely valuable experience to be in an ESL classroom throughout the whole semester but not be The Leader. I can bring a much more low-key energy, focus on different things and different people, and see the classroom from a not-the-teacher perspective. Really, it’s like a semester-long professional development activity that I’m getting compensated for.

One source of irony is that this experience, like other great PD, is a huge idea generator. But as the assistant, I really don’t have a say in how the class goes (though the teacher is super collaborative and asks for and values my opinions). I’m taking detailed notes on specifics so I can apply some or all of these ideas to my next class. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to stay in the moment and not get carried away with the possibilities. Having the space to wind down and be is a huge benefit of being “just” the assistant.

I wouldn’t want to forego actual teaching, leading, and preparation for any length of time – I value it and I already miss it. But I’m just so pleased at how things worked out this semester: I’m involved, I’m not overextended, and I’m growing as a teacher.

You’re reading Assistant (to the) Teacher, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.